Among the many Palestinians who greeted the 198 released prisoners on Monday was Fadwa Barghouti, wife of the former Tanzim leader in the West Bank, Marwan Barghouti. Her husband was arrested in April 2002 and is currently serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for the murder of five Israelis.
Barghouti, who had come to celebrated with the families of the released prisoners in a formal celebration at the Muqataa compound in Ramallah, said that the release of each prisoner was a Palestinian accomplishment.
"This is a day of happiness, particularly when the most veteran prisoner in the world is released. We hope the negotiations will lead to a solution for all the prisoners, so that we can celebrate their release in the independent Palestinian state," she said.
Change of criteria
According to Barghouti, in Israel's most recent gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, there was a change of Israeli criteria regarding prisoners. "If the criteria allow the release of the two veteran prisoners, they should have also released the other 11 prisoners who have been jailed for more than 25 years."
"Also, if they want to build trust in a peace process and we're talking about a gesture, they should have released all 86 prisoners imprisoned over 20 years. The criteria need to be the release of all Palestinian prisoners who were imprisoned in Israel prior to the Oslo Accords," she added.
Of her still imprisoned husband, Fadwa Barghouti said her personal day of celebration will not be upon his release, "but rather on the day that we celebrate the release of all prisoners in an agreement that will bring an end to occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state."
"That will be the real celebration. When a nation will be established within the context of real peace, there will be no more prisoners and everyone will celebrate with their families. This will be the real celebration of all of us as well as our personal celebration," she added.
Bitunia crossing (Photo: Ali Waked)
Earlier, the 198 prisoners were freed from the Ofer Prison, near the West Bank city of Ramallah. From there they were bussed through the Bitunia crossing, north of Jerusalem, to the Muqataa for a special celebration ceremony, with Abbas and other senior Palestinian Authority officials.
Following the ceremony, the prisoners will be reunited with their families across the West Bank. Additional ceremonies in Hebron and Nablus are planned.
In the past few days, the prisoners underwent medical tests and final identification, and met with the prison directors and Red Cross representatives. Before getting on the buses to go to Bitunia, the former inmates signed a commitment to never engage in terror activities again.
The cabinet originally approved the release of 199 prisoners, but an examination of the prisoners' list revealed that one of them was facing criminal charges and he was thus removed from the list.